Pre-Tour Bicycle Tune-Up Checklist

April 13, 2015

Any time I'm planning out a trip, regardless of location or distance, the very first thing I do is break into an Excel spreadsheet. Keeping things organized in my head has never been one of my stronger suits, so I need to get it all down on a list before something else grabs my attention. Lists also give me a little more confidence going into a tour as reassurance that the things I've planned for have been taken care of.

One such list that stays consistent from ride to ride is my pre-tour bicycle maintenance checklist. This isn't meant to be a complete overhaul of the bike. Running through the list takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, and gives me a chance to address current problems or imperfections that could create worse problems a few days into a trip. Here's the list of parts I focus on, with a quick explanation of what I'm looking for.

1. Frame: I always start with the frame and give it a good wipe down with a rag. Once I've removed the dirt and grime, I check the frame over for any signs of cracks. Cracks can occur just about anywhere on a frame, but it seems they most commonly occur near welds, so I check these areas quite thoroughly.

2. Tires: With the tire inflated, I look for sharp debris or glass embedded in the tire, as well as any cuts that look like they go through the rubber and tire casing, which would expose some of the tube. I also check the tread wear. If the top tread of the tire is starting to become square in shape (as opposed to rounded), or I am able to see the casing through the tread, it is time to swap out for a new tire.

3. Wheels: Spinning the wheels while straddling the bike, I give them a quick spot check to make sure that they are round and true, and that there isn't any excessive friction in the hubs. I also give the spokes a quick squeeze to check for consistent tension.

4. Brakes: The first thing I look at here are the brake pads. Some pads have a wear indicator that lets you know when they need to be replaced. For others, you want to make sure that the rubber isn't wearing too close to the metal shoe that holds the brake pad. Once I determine that the brake pads are in good condition, I check the pads' alignment to the rim to make sure they aren't rubbing on the tire or the rim below the braking surface. Lastly, I check to make sure I have good cable tension so that I don't have to pull on the brake levers too hard to get adequate stopping power.

5. Chain/Cassette: Chain and cassette wear can wreak havoc on your shifting, and increase the chance of a broken chain, especially when you're putting a lot of torque on the drivetrain with a loaded bike. Looking at the cassette, I focus on the teeth. If the cassette teeth come to a sharp point, the cassette should be replaced. As for the chain, I use a chain checker tool to make sure that it isn't stretched. If you don't have one of these tools, you can look at how the chain lies over the front chainrings. If the chain doesn't seat itself on the chain ring properly, it is probably ready to be replaced.

6. Shifting: Once I've made sure that the cassette and chain look good, I run through the gears to make sure the that the shifting is dialed in. While I'm doing this, I also take a look at the cables and housing to make sure there isn't any excessive friction or fraying.

7. Rack: If my rack fails, I'm likely hauling my gear on my back until I can get a replacement, and that isn't a good thing. I look for cracks in the rack, and make sure that all of the bolts securing it are snug.

8. Bolts: With a multi-tool, I just go over the bike from front to back, making sure all of the bolts are snug.

9. Take a Spin: The last step is to take the bike out of the garage and give it a quick spin around the block. I run through the gears while riding, try out the brakes, and listen for any creaks that might require further investigation.

As I'm working through this list, I always have a notepad and pencil out to make yet another list of any replacement parts I'll need from the bike shop, so that I only have to make one shopping trip. After all of this has been taken care of, I have on less thing to worry about as the trip planning progresses.

Photo by Josh Tack.


TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.


Masood January 23, 2016, 1:50 PM

Can you send me the best brand and model of touring bike?

Douglas Herr August 13, 2017, 7:23 PM

Many people like the Surly long haul trucker for touring. It's a touring bicycle made for touring

Dave Zevin May 15, 2017, 7:21 PM

I find MKS gr-9 pedals very comfortable and agree with the description of their strengths and weaknesses in this article

Power Grips straps are a huge improvement over old school clips and straps - lighter, easier in and out and very comfortable

Jeff Garrard June 25, 2015, 6:57 AM

Recently did a tour of the Florida coast, loved t but have a question to throw out there. My question deals with choice of pedals, cletes, toe clips or regular pedals? I went between cletes and reg pedals. is there any majority preference out there or can I take it as a personal preference thing? Thanks.

Robin Brodsky June 25, 2015, 7:46 AM

Glad you had a good ride. I began tourin with cleats years ago and have since gone to toe cages and straps. The reason is, I only need one pair of shoes. I like hiking and walking off the bike too and don't want to be bothered changing shoes or carrying extra. The down side is I believe you really do get better bang for your buck with upward pulling of the pedal stroke. I'm currently on the Western Express, it's a little hot but beautiful.

Good luck.

Robin Brodsky June 9, 2015, 2:03 AM

Thanks for posting this. I am starting a long ride and there is always something I wish I had or something I do have that I wish I didnt.

I'm not a great wrench so I took my bike to a shop to be looked at by a pro. I knew it needed brake work and cables, ousing etc. I still need tires and I'm working on that...

Anyway, thanks agin.

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